Friday, September 27, 2013

One year later: Furlong case fraught with accusations and denials

One year ago, on Sept. 27, 2012, the world of John Furlong was turned upside down and Vancouverites who followed his rise were shocked. 

The Georgia Straight published an expose by Ontario journalist Laura Robinson that revealed Irish-born Furlong lived in Canada before his oft-stated 1974 arrival in Edmonton. He had been a Catholic missionary volunteering as a physical education teacher of aboriginal children at the Immaculata Catholic elementary school in Burns Lake in 1969 and 1970, before moving to Prince George. Some of those ex-students claimed that he abused them and ruined their childhood. 

As CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizing committee, Furlong was the head organizer of the biggest, most-expensive and complex Winter Olympics in history. Furlong was the British Columbian who formally welcomed the world at the opening ceremony on Feb. 12, 2010 and he thanked the world for coming on Feb. 28, 2010 at the closing ceremony. The International Olympic Committee estimated 1.8 billion people watched during the 17 days of Vancouver 2010. Furlong was showered with acclaim before, during and after: honorary university degrees, corporate board appointments and even his name was emblazoned on a SkyTrain car. 

Never before -- and, perhaps, never again -- will British Columbia be so united as it was during February 2010 and Furlong was at the centre of it all. He also became a lightning rod for criticism, whether it was VANOC’s secrecy, its adverse impact on some communities and the environment, the cost of it all, VANOC's finances amid the Great Recession and the preventable death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. 

Within hours of the Georgia Straight story hitting the streets and the web, Furlong appeared at a news conference in The Landing in Gastown. A building of significance, for that is where the Bid Corporation and Organizing Committee were once located and it is now home of the Furlong-chaired Vancouver Whitecaps and the TwentyTen Group, the marketing company that represents him. He took no questions, but adamantly proclaimed his innocence. The message he wanted to deliver was plain and simple: the acts that he was accused of committing "just didn't happen."

He did, however, admit to being in Northern British Columbia from 1969 to 1972, facts that were omitted from the book because he felt that period of his life was “fairly brief and fairly uneventful.” A look inside the Prince George newspaper archives, however, says otherwise. A front page story in 1972 said he fled Canada because of repeated attacks and threats while volunteering as a soccer referee.

Furlong sued for defamation on Nov. 27. Less than two months later, the Georgia Straight and Laura Robinson responded with defence statements. They emphatically stand behind their work and plead the truth. They also filed expanded allegations; Robinson’s filing included allegations of sexual assault of a former common law spouse. TwentyTen Group issued Furlong's denial, then silence from the Furlong camp through February and March. He had gone to Ireland with his third wife, Deborah Sharp.

Then tragedy struck. Sharp died in Dublin April 11 after a head-on car crash near their home in rural Gorey, County Wexford. Police in Ireland continue to investigate.

He re-emerged in July as an advisor to a penny-stock gold mining company with ambitions for a motherlode in Albania. Then more trouble. Two women who claimed in July 24 B.C. Supreme Court lawsuits that Furlong verbally, physically and sexually abused them in 1969 and 1970 when they were his students. That action preceded Furlong’s long-awaited rebuttal to the Georgia Straight and Robinson. Furlong repeated his denial and an allegation that Robinson carries a personal vendetta against him. Robinson, who is raising funds for a mounting legal bill, denies that charge. The rebuttal even said Furlong's lawyer had been advised by the RCMP that there would be no criminal charges because the police found no evidence of abuse. (An RCMP spokesman publicly said the investigation was ongoing.)

Jason Gratl, the lawyer for the two new complainants, wrote an open letter to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, claiming the RCMP had not done its job and were showing pro-Furlong bias. Gratl pointed out that the Mounties had a $900 million budget to secure the Olympics and senior officials worked closely with Furlong. Gratl is waiting for action from the RCMP complaints watchdog.

The same day Furlong responded in court with denials to Gratl’s clients in September, a third lawsuit was filed by a male ex-student alleging Furlong had sexually assaulted him.

Yet again, you heard or read the important phrase: none of the allegations has been proven in court.  

Furlong's public speaking engagements, for which he has charged $20,000 an appearance, evaporated. He did, however, retain support from Own the Podium, Whitecaps FC, Rocky Mountaineer, Whistler Blackcomb and Canadian Tire to remain on their boards. While ex-Premier Gordon Campbell stayed silent, VANOC chairman Rusty Goepel didn't. On the third anniversary of the Games, Goepel wrote a Vancouver Sun commentary in support of Furlong

A year has passed since the Georgia Straight story. So what next? When will the time come for the to-and-fro of accusations and denials to end? When will evidence be tested and the truth determined? When will a trial happen?  

The B.C. Supreme Court registry and lawyer for the Georgia Straight, Roger McConchie confirm there are no hearings scheduled. (Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, and his agent, Andrea Shaw of TwentyTen Group, have not responded for comment.)

Said McConchie: “There's been no discovery of any sort, documentary or examination. No examinations for discovery have been scheduled. We haven't had any communication from them on a trial date. 

“It's not proceeding on a vigorous pace.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Raise a reader, rouse an adman

Extra! Extra!

"Man buys copy of the Vancouver Sun from British Columbia's Education Minister with a fresh $100 bill donation to the newspaper's vital Raise-a-Reader literacy charity!"

Read all about it!

There's more to this picture (which was posted caption-less on the government's main propaganda website) than meets the eye. 

Minister Fassbender sells $100 newspaper!
Admen reunite: Palmer (left) and Fassbender (
If you follow B.C. politics, you probably know the man on the right is Peter Fassbender. He's the rookie Surrey-Fleetwood BC Liberal MLA who was re-elected Mayor of the City of Langley in 2011 (a post held since July by Ted Schaffer who was chosen by the rest of council to serve the rest of Fassbender's term).

Fassbender is a close friend of Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, who installed Fassbender as chairman of B.C. Pavilion Corporation, a post he held through the election.

Fassbender hit the streets on Sept. 25 to sell papers with news of a $500,000 donation from taxpayers to Raise-a-Reader, via Decoda Literacy Solutions, a spinoff of the secretive 2010 Legacies Now.

The man on the left is Frank Palmer, British Columbia's most-powerful and most-successful ad-man. He's the Palmer in Palmer Jarvis Advertising, which is now DDB Canada where he is chairman and CEO. 

Before he was a local politician in Langley, Fassbender was a business partner with Palmer at P.J. They go way back. In the 1990s, Fassbender was Palmer's right-hand man.  

Palmer, through an Alberta numbered company, 971261 Alberta Ltd., donated $2,500 to Fassbender's election campaign, which cost almost $200,000 (nearly double Premier Christy Clark's failed Vancouver-Point Grey campaign). Even while he was running for office, Fassbender remained the chairman of B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the taxpayer-owned company that runs B.C. Place Stadium and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Palmer is also a board member

Donating a C-note to a newspaper's charity is tame for Palmer. Last year, he dressed up as rapper Big Frankie P and recorded a track to benefit the National Advertising Benevelont Society, the ad industry's self-help charity. You could say he went from rap to fish-wrap.

Award-winning DDB was among six ad agencies on a pre-approved list of companies that the government called-upon from time-to-time over the last three years. During the most recent fiscal year, DDB billed the government $5.4 million and BC Hydro $11.7 million. DDB remains one of the government's go-to ad shops; it was included on an expanded, post-election list of 23 companies offering traditional, digital, video and polling services. Palmer's thoughts about procurement appear in Strategy, one of the Canadian industry's trade mags. 

Here's my Tyee reality check "Mad Men are always election winners" about the ad industry's relationship with the government and the ruling party. The Vancouver ad industry is reliant on government contracts, because it lacks the quantity of private sector corporate head offices that Toronto and Calgary boast. The government spent $36.4 million during the year leading up to the election. The re-elected Liberals would say it was money well-spent. Taxpayers? Not so much

Now you know a little more about a photograph on the government website. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Coming in 2016: a value added tax at the urban resort?

Sept. 24, 2013 was the anniversary of Premier Christy Clark's announcement that her chief of staff Ken Boessenkool resigned for an "incident of concern."

It was another great day for euphemisms. Let's have two.

John Winter, the CEO of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, is lobbying for the resurrection of the Harmonized Sales Tax. Except he’s not calling it that. Nosiree. It’s a Value-Added Tax. Get it? 

According to Barbara Yaffe in the Sept. 24 Vancouver Sun
“Winter says the chamber is not trying to resurrect an HST debate, which he calls 'a nonstarter' in this province. 'What we are proposing is a way to leave our HST angst behind and move B.C. forward into tax dialogues.
"By not taxing business inputs, a VAT would allow B.C. to grow its prosperity by encouraging entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators."
In a June 8, 2010 Georgia Straight editorial ("HST is key to a strong economy in B.C."), Winter used the terms in the same sentence. 
“Experience in Atlantic Canada and other jurisdictions confirms that shifting to a value-added sales tax like the HST paves the way for increased capital spending on machinery, equipment, structures, new technologies, and other productive assets.”
The HST was imposed on British Columbians by Premier Gordon Campbell on July 1, 2010. It was announced July 23, 2009, just over two months after the BC Liberals won an election in which they vowed to be disinterested in giving B.C. a VAT. In the July 23, 2009 government news release, the HST was described as a VAT.
"More than 130 countries, including 29 of the 30 OECD countries, along with four Canadian provinces, have adopted taxes similar to the HST, called value-added taxes, which reimburse most businesses for the tax they pay on their inputs."
The HST was phased out March 31, 2013 after almost 55% of those who voted opted to extinguish the tax and return to the Provincial Sales Tax. 

Winter, by the way, knows a different kind of vat. He had a three-decade management career with Molson Brewery, including presidency of its Western Canada division. 

Also on Sept. 24, Paragon Gaming unveiled its plans for "Vancouver's Urban Resort."  This, two-and-a-half months after I broke the story in Business in Vancouver about financially troubled Paragon inking a revised deal with B.C. Pavilion Corporation to lease land next to B.C. Place Stadium. The original $6 million a year toward the $514 million stadium renovation will now be $3 million if the complex gets built. 

Yes, this Las Vegas company doesn’t want us to call it the proposed, $535 million new home of Edgewater Casino or a hotel/casino complex. Especially after Vancouver city council threw a curveball and quashed its bid to expand the 75-table, 600-slot machine casino to 150 tables and 1,500 slots in April 2011. Instead, it gave Paragon the go-ahead to move the existing licence to land for lease beside B.C. Place Stadium. Paragon's original $6 million-a-year, 70-year lease was cut to $3 million in a deal agreed to in March 2013. 

The 2011-proposed casino/hotel complex
Paragon revealed the architect's drawings for the casino complex.... er, urban resort... and its investors at a Sept. 24 news conference. Evidently my invitation was lost in the mail. 

I did some digging and found the company's CEO Diana Bennett and president Scott Menke registered a company called Paragon Holdings (Vancouver Resort) ULC on Aug. 8. They are the only directors of the company. Bennett and Menke are also the sole directors of Paragon Gaming Training School Ltd. Their Paragon Development is not to be confused with Paragon Development Inc. of Richmond, whose directors are Julie Chan and Terry Lai. 

The corporate registry doesn’t yet show executives of Paragon backers 360 Vox or Dundee Corporation as directors of Paragon Holdings (Vancouver Resort) ULC. 

The 2013-proposed urban resort... yeah, urban resort

Montreal-headquartered, TSX-V-listed 360 Vox is the umbrella for Enchantment Group Hotels, Resorts and Spas, Sotheby's International Realty Canada, Blueprint Global Marketing and 360 blu. Its asset management portfolio includes Fairmont Hotels including the Empress in Victoria, Olympic in Seattle, Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Royal York in Toronto and Queen Elizabeth in Montreal. 360 Vox is also the project marketer for the CityCenter development in Las Vegas and developer of  two resorts in Dalian, China and three hotels in Cuba. 

Those Cuban properties are the subject of 360 Vox's $25.5 million lawsuit filed in Florida against the PGA of America. Vox 360 claimed PGA cancelled its licensing deal in December 2012 to use the PGA Village Cuba and PGA National Golf Academy Cuba names. 

Dundee Corp. owns 18% of 360 Vox and both companies are chaired by Ned Goodman who, according to the Globe and Mail, sleeps like a baby. Dundee, by the way, owns 58% of oil and gas exploration, development and production company Dundee Energy Ltd. and it owns 83% of Blue Goose Capital Corp., which bought the 14,052-acre Diamond S Ranch in Pavilion, B.C., for $14.8 million. Blue Goose, according to Dundee's annual report, is “focused on the production of clean protein.” (That’s another euphemism for another day.)

Vancouver Not Vegas coalition leader Sandy Garossino was not feeling enthusiastic about Paragon's euphemism. The casino development is not welcome and will be vigorously opposed, she said. Vancouver Not Vegas has already filed a petition, seeking a B.C. Supreme Court order to overturn city council's decision to allow the relocation.

“The people of Vancouver and Vancouver city council roundly rejected the first time this mega casino was proposed. Now we have the appearance of a smaller casino but there still has been no disclosure, there are still too many questions unanswered," Garossino said. "This is really an attempt to do an end run around city council. It makes no economic sense to do such a substantial development around a casino as small as the existing Edgewater is, it’s not going to anchor a development on a scale as being advanced here. We’re very skeptical this is the reality Vancouver is eventually going to have.” 

Yes, here comes another great casino debate about an urban resort.

Which is really just a value-added casino.

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